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NISC and colleges forge career paths

by Luann Dart

NISC employees Tanya Peluso, Justin Thorson, Justin Kilzer, Tylater Schwartz and Jamie Thorson

NISC and Tanya Peluso, middle, worked with local colleges and universities to attract this new crop of employees, including, from Left: Justin Thorson, Justin Kilzer, Tyler Schwartz and Jamie Thorson. (photo by John Kary, NDAREC)

As a technology vanguard – and unwavering in its cooperative business structure – National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC) in Mandan offers unique opportunities to North Dakota’s college graduates. And the state’s colleges are delivering topnotch employee prospects to NISC’s doorstep.

“We have this amazing IT company right here in Mandan. You don’t have to go outside of the state to find something that’s really progressive,” says Tanya Peluso, a team lead in human resources.

NISC is an information technology (IT) company that develops and supports software and hardware solutions for its member-owners who are primarily utility cooperatives and telecommunications companies across the nation. NISC also has facilities in Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin.

“The employees of NISC are the most valuable asset that we have. As a technology organization, recruiting and retaining a talented and skilled workforce is always one of our top priorities. We know that the same developers that we are trying to recruit also have offers from some of the biggest technology organizations in the world. The importance of culture in attracting a new workforce has never been more important,” says NISC’s Vice President of Member and Industry Jasper Schneider.

Tyler Schwartz, Justin Kilzer and twin brothers Jamie and Justin Thorson are all starting new careers at NISC as recent college graduates. They recently visited with North Dakota Living to share their experiences in deciding upon a career at NISC.

“I love it. I love to come to work every day. It’s new every single day,” says Schwartz, a software associate in the engineering and operations division.

Originally from Fontana, Calif., Schwartz was recruited through a football scholarship to the University of Jamestown, where he earned a degree in information technology.

“They prepared me very well. Since the University of Jamestown is a smaller school, I had the one-on-one contact with the professors, so I think I learned more than at other schools where the classrooms are 300 to 400 kids. I think I had an edge on some of the kids at large schools,” he says.

“Their instructors are very involved,” Peluso adds. “They’ll walk around the career fairs and say, ‘Hey, don’t miss out on that student.’ ”

Jamie and Justin Thorson echo Schwartz’s sentiment about attending a smaller university. Both obtained accounting degrees from the University of Mary after graduating from Bismarck High School.

“It’s smaller classes, so you really do get to know your professors and have a good relationship with them. They know you and you can always go to them if you need anything,” Justin Thorson says. A diverse class schedule also produces a well-rounded student, he adds.

A well-rounded student is important to NISC, which emphasizes its need for employees who fit the company culture.

“We have a special relationship with the University of Mary,” Peluso says. “They have a similar servant leadership philosophy as we do at NISC, so what they’re learning there translates very nicely when coming to our company.”

Justin Thorson now works at NISC on the accounting and business solutions (ABS) implementation team, while Jamie is on the ABS support team, answering questions from members about the accounting software.

“I love the culture here at NISC.  I love all the people I work with. Everyone is so willing to help if you have a question. It’s also nice to be on the phone with our members,” Jamie says. “It’s nice getting a mix between interacting with people and still having to think through what accounting entries are happening and how to fix it.”

Justin Kilzer, a graduate of Mott/Regent High School, took a different route to NISC. Now a software developer at NISC, he remained on the Bismarck State College (BSC) campus for four years, first earning a two-year associate’s degree from BSC, then obtaining a bachelor of science degree in computer science through Dickinson State University. Upon completion of his associate’s degree, he started a paid internship at NISC, while completing his final two years of college.

“I learned a lot from my internship, because I was an intern here for two years while taking my classes. The combination of the two, they go together so well. You’re always learning new things,” he says.

Kilzer helped code parts of NISC’s iVUE software as an intern and now works on the Android development team coding AppSuite, NISC’s smartphone app.

During his paid internship, NISC allowed flexible work hours so he could attend classes and complete his homework, Kilzer says.

“They always stress that school comes first,” he adds.

As NISC recruits employees, internships are helpful for both employee and employer to find a right fit. 

Both Jamie and Justin Thorson also interned at NISC.

“Our accounting internships are pretty unique,” Peluso says. “They’re not your typical accounting position. They’re very different. You need to know the basic accounting concepts, but also have to like IT. It’s a challenge to find that special combination, but a fun one.”

NISC discovered all four of these employees at career or internship fairs at local colleges. Schwartz applied for several positions at NISC before finding the right fit, and NISC worked with him through the process.

“We want to make sure everyone is on the right seat on the bus,” Peluso says.

“I found my fit and I love it,” Schwartz says.

NISC also works with advisory committees at colleges to share information to help prepare students for jobs in the state, and she credits colleges for helping their students succeed.

“I can’t say enough about how impactful it is to have their instructors involved. That, to me, is priceless, to have an instructor come and say, ‘These are the students to look for,’ ” Peluso says. “It’s not solely about the resume, it’s also what is not in black and white.” NISC shares its six values during the interview process, which include: integrity, innovation, empowerment, teamwork, personal development and relationships. The recruiting team is responsible for finding employees who match those values, and the values are also included in coaching conversations throughout the year.

“Do the right thing always,” is CEO Vern Dosch’s mantra, Peluso points out.

Jamie and Justin Thorson recall Dosch stopping in the hallway to visit with them during one of their first weeks at NISC, and they were impressed the CEO took time to recognize them.

“One of the biggest reasons I love coming to work every day is because of the people I work with. They do a good job to make sure people are a culture fit,” Jamie says.

“Everything we do here is a team effort and not just a single person. We must work together as a team to get our product to the members,” Kilzer says.

NISC offers flexible hours, work-from-home options when necessary and breaks in the game room.

“Our general rule is to do no harm to your team or to our members. As long as you’re doing your job and supporting our members, we allow a little bit of flexibility,” Peluso says.

That’s another attraction to the new recruits, they all point out.

Employing a total of 1,175, with more than 400 on the Mandan campus, NISC is nearing its 50th anniversary in IT. The cooperative has members in all 50 states.

“NISC is grateful to serve our member-owners, who are primarily rural electric utilities and independent telecommunication companies. The role of technology continues to change these two industries, similar to how it is changing just about every industry. As their technology partner, we are committed to their future through different innovations and technology solutions,” Schneider says.

“We’re proud that we’ve come this far,” Peluso adds. 

Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.